There’s something extraordinary going on at the University of Utah Health Care system that’s promising to revolutionize the way medical care is priced and delivered not only here, but throughout the world — and the world is paying attention. A four-year-long push toward innovation in assessing the costs and delivery of medical services is attracting international notice and has helped lead the U’s health care facilities to the No. 1 ranking among all academic hospitals in the U.S., according to a recent survey.
That an institution here is now ranked among facilities like the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota and Cedars-Sinai Health Systems in Los Angeles is a remarkable accomplishment and something the community should embrace with pride. It’s also something that has and will continue to directly benefit the community by paving the way for more cost-effective health care, while improving the quality of treatment.
The process began when Dr. Vivian Lee, CEO of University of Utah Health Care, began querying colleagues on their knowledge of the costs of various medical procedures and discovered a lack of general understanding of the basic dollars-and-cents components of delivering treatment. The school then began analyzing the cost calculus in different treatment protocols and came up with some simple but profound discoveries. For example, it noticed that in high-volume joint replacement procedures, patients recovered at varying rates. In some cases, when surgeries were scheduled late in the day, patients were unable to meet with physical therapists quickly after the procedure. Those patients were unable to get up and out of bed the day of the surgery, which doctors consider important for recovery. So the school changed therapists’ schedules and as a result has seen an 11 percent drop in costs by reducing the number of days joint-replacement patients stay in the hospital.
The experience was chronicled in the Journal of the American Medical Association with an accompanying editorial by a Harvard Business School professor who called it “an impressive and important step forward, not just for the University of Utah Health Care system but for the rest of U.S. health care.”
The school is now continuing to build an enormous database to track the exact costs of all hospital operations, down to the penny. The practice represents a rare and unique approach to putting an accurate price tag on health care, something medical institutions have not traditionally done in such a precise way.
And, as costs go down, the school’s reputation as a beacon for innovation continues to rise. Other institutions are beginning efforts to replicate the practice, which over time may work to significantly reduce the aggregate costs of health care throughout the country. That is no small accomplishment — and one that has brought a measure of well-deserved prestige to the University of Utah Health Care systems, while delivering immense value to the community it serves.